After falafels, we ditched our car near Union Park, where we found unrestricted street parking. The first day of the Pitchfork Music Festival celebrated the back catalogue of four indie greats. Friday’s sets were billed as “Write the Night,” whereby those purchasing tickets voted online to determine the set list.
It’s fitting that the festival opened with Chicago’s own Tortoise. Following a brief introduction—wherein the band dedicated the first song to Chicago’s poet laureate and indie rock gadfly Thax Douglas, claiming that Thax had died that morning (it turned out to be a hoax. Thax is alive and well)—the band launched into “Seneca”, the dual-percussionist setup pummeling through what amounts to simultaneous drum solos underneath an Morricone inspired guitar line. The leading track on Standards, this piece serves as a Tortoise primer—the raucous beginning transitioning smoothly into melodies traded between guitar and synth, sporadic interruptions of electronic noise, ending climactically with rhythmic clapping. Most of the material making its way onto the night’s set was from the classic (and of course Pitchfork-approved) TNT. During some songs, Tortoise becomes a five-piece rhythm section, with only hints of melody glimmering here and there. Though less of a spectacle without their accompanying projected visualizations, the passion the band brings to their shape-shifting tunes provides a welcome kick-start to the weekend’s lineup. (Dave Knowlden)
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo have recorded some of the more precious numbers in the indie rock songbook (“My Little Corner of the World” and “You Can Have It All”), as well as some of the more upbeat, thrashing jams (“Pass the Hatchet…” and “Sugarcube”). Ira, Georgia, and James worked the crowd over with highlights from their vast back catalog, showcasing all sides of the diverse music that is distinctly Yo La Tengo. James provides solid, anchoring basslines, Georgia kept a steady beat (what more could we ask for?), and Ira shredded with abandon where appropriate. The main variance in this set, and the only disappointment one could find, was the absence of any spontaneous covers. Yo La Tengo strayed from the “Write the Night” mandate to play some new material from the forthcoming Popular Songs. (DK)
The Jesus Lizard
“Shut up. Another day another dollar.” The Jesus Lizard’s set began with David Yow’s acerbic response to rapturous applause. Of course, the audience ate it up. This would be no warm-hearted reunion or nostalgia-fueled victory lap. After a decade of silence, the band sounds as ferocious and intimidating as ever. The Jesus Lizard owned the night. David Wm. Sims and Duane Denison flanked Yow with stoic expressions, as if bodyguards, allowing Yow to channel the band’s energy with flailing, convulsive disregard to his own safety, spending little time on stage. (Cole Stryker)
Built to Spill
It seems a bit unfair to let anyone follow the Jesus Lizard, let alone the noodling Built to Spill. Given the “Write the Night” theme, it was surprising to see that the audience preferred to hear material from the band’s jam-band repertoire rather than the more straightforward indie pop of There’s Nothing Wrong with Love and Keep It Like a Secret. After witnessing the Lizard, Built to Spill’s too-long interpretations of the audience’s chosen songs failed to hold my attention, though it’s understandable why the event planners would chose to headline with a band with more mainstream cachet. (CS)